From My Archives
By Yonas Araya
This statement was posted on Dehai.org’s message board in May 1999.
(After, in my last article, I mentioned about an article that I had posted in 1999 on dehai.org, some readers contacted me and asked me if I could re-post that same article on Asmarino.com. I forced myself to post that article hastily on dehai.org in 1999 after I found out that Eritrea was preparing to regain Badme through force, which it did, but failed after squandering several thousand Eritrean children. I wrote that article in the hope that we could spare as many Eritreans from death and in the hope that Eritreans would back me up, but, of course, the response from the members of Dehai was the usual response: this is garbage, this crap, this is insane, Agame, Woyane, how dare you, how dare you … you have no respect for our martyrs, leave the job to Jigna Wedi Afeworki, he will destroy Ethiopia. Eritreans are not dying. Eritreans are killing Ethiopians by the thousands etc.,)
Below is the article, as I posted it on dehai.org. The first half of the article was meant to criticize the leadership on its performance before the war broke out. The last half advised the leadership how to get out of the war gracefully while it had military superiority.
Selam to all Dehaiers:
I did not see a reason to explain the accomplishments of the government of Eritrea in the seven years before the border war with Ethiopia since that has been our daily life with the government-controlled media in Eritrea and here on Dehai.
Today, I will first pinpoint all the negative aspects of the Eritrean leadership in those seven years before the border war started. Finally, I will present my peace proposal to the leadership in Eritrea.
In the seven years before the war of Badme, the leadership in Eritrea spent doing or saying the following:
Outside of Eritrea:
- Arrogantly ridiculing and pitying the leaders of Africa and telling them how corrupt they were, how incompetent they were, how lousy leaders they were, and how they did not do their homework.
- Boasting in front of the UN and telling its members and its Secretary how the UN was mismanaged.
** Inside Eritrea:
- Doing arbitrary re-mapping of Eritrean districts in such a way that did not consider economic, social, topography, public office proximity, and historical aspects of the people of the districts.
- Quarreling with Sudan, Yemen and Djibouti.
- Confiscating lands from peasants and reallocating the lands to wealthy “investors.”
- Doing senseless shuffling, reshuffling, and re-reshuffling … of its cabinet.
- Being consumed by its short-term economic gain from Ethiopia, owing it to its short-term policies.
- Procrastinating on implementing the constitution, which it had engineered and ratified.
- Segregating the Eritrean people into two classes: between the privileged, the Party members, and the rest.
— I will clarify some of my points that are not so self-evident:
* * Doing Homework and Re-mapping of Eritrean Districts:
In retrospect, had this leadership done one-tenth of its homework, Eritreans would not be in this mess with Ethiopia, no Eritrean child would’ve been on the battlefield, and not a single drop of Eritrean blood would’ve been spilled.
The leadership in Eritrea, before it engaged itself in re-mapping of Eritrean districts, a job that would require 15-25- years of extensive research, and most of all, a job that could’ve waited for the constitution to be drafted, it could’ve asserted and demarcated Eritrea’s borders with Ethiopia, and when could be better delineating our borders than when the leadership in Ethiopia was so weak and vulnerable, right after the referendum.(missed opportunity)
However, the leadership, thanks to its short-sighted policies, was consumed by the economic benefits it was enjoying from Ethiopia, thus failing to prioritize the border problem although. However, by its admission, the problem was not new. Let’s ask ourselves now why the re-mapping of Eritrean districts had to take precedence over Eritrea’s map with its neighbors.
Consumed by temporary interests, had it not let the TPLF administer Badme after the ELF was driven out of those areas, Ethiopia would’ve had very weak evidence to provide to the world its own people.
But because the Eritrean leadership did not do its homework, thousands of Eritrean youth are being sentenced to death; up to two hundred thousand youth are on the battlefield, leaving their parents and their children behind; many are themselves the children of martyrs; therefore, leaving their widowed mothers behind. Moreover, if this war does not stop soon, thousands more will die again, leaving thousands of widows and orphans behind, and thousands will become physically and mentally disabled permanently.
* Confiscating land*
Confiscating land from peasants and declaring all Eritrean soils to remain under the government was not only “unconstitutional” but also not a thought-out plan, a plan that was more dangerous to Eritrea as a nation than a million-man enemy army. I believe this single hasty decision will, in 30-40 years, destroy Eritrean nationalism because it takes away the very ingredient that helped build Eritrean nationalism. Eritrean nationalism did not start on top and come down, but it started at the family, clan, or village level, at the bottom level, and went upward. The reason why Eritreans are so nationalist and so attached to their country than many people we know of is because each Eritrean had some form of land ownership, and that was the very thing that produced such as ” Nrsti Ywagala Ansti” zeal.
The government’s decision to appropriate land from the very people who died for the land, and right in front of these peasants’ very eyes, giving the very same land away to wealthy “investors,” God knows where those wealthy “investors” were when those people were dying, and thus rendering the native people land-less and dispossessed is not only morally wrong but commits murder on Eritrean nationalism.
There are those who believe that Eritrea has a clean government, Eritrea is in good hands (whatever that means) are correct, and let’s assume that the present government does not suffer from corruption. However, can we assume that all future Eritrean governments will never be corrupt or that this government will remain clean forever? By putting all Eritrean soils under government bureaucracy, the present government has given a “constitutional'” right or a carte blanche to all future governments over all Eritrean soils. And the problem with that is any government authority will be able to take bribes or tempted to take bribes from wealthy “investors,” thus depriving ordinary citizens (all Eritreans) of their lands. This single short-sighted and reactive decree, therefore, will cause Eritrea to be eaten up by scandals, which will grow exponentially to the extent that the scandal will smear all government officials until swept under the rug.
One might ask, why are Eritreans fighting courageously now? And the answer is, among other factors, Eritreans are not fully aware that government bureaucracy controls their soil. But the implication is grave; volumes of books could be written about it, and expect in the future, should Eritrea is invaded by foreign forces, Eritreans to shrug their shoulders, saying I will not die for wealthy people’s land – – for ordinary citizens, the land would not be worth to die for anymore.
In any case, this was something that would’ve required 20-30 years of unfettered research and should not have taken precedence over contested Eritrean soils with Ethiopia.
In conclusion, this war is a result of the Eritrean leadership’s shortsighted and reactive policies, the result of lack of doing its homework, its inability to prognosticate into Eritrea’s future, and the result of what the leadership has done and what it has left undone. Therefore, the leadership in Eritrea bears the full responsibility for all Eritrean children who have been vanishing in this, what could’ve been avoidable war, and the leadership can not, and will not be able to transfer the blame anywhere else.
The points that I mentioned above are only to remind the leadership how too much time it had wasted imposing its wishy-washy wills upon Eritrean people; how much time it had wasted tampering with dangerous internal matters; how many opportunities it missed; and how its popularity was plummeting fast among Eritrean people before the border war began.
** What’s next?
Now that we’ve gotten ourselves into this mess, we need to find our way out of it. We are too late for the Eritrean soldiers who’ve already died and for their families and their parents, but we can do something for the remaining. Events are moving at a faster pace; therefore, the sooner we act, the more Eritrean children and Eritrean soldiers we will be able to spare from death and the more families and villages we will be able to spare from extinction.
That is why, next, I am presenting my detailed peace proposal to the leadership in Eritrea, and I hope the leadership will take an honest look at my proposal:
* My peace proposal:
The Ethiopian government will not survive 24 hours if it cuts a deal with the government of Eritrea while Ethiopian territories and/or territories formerly administered by Ethiopia are occupied by Eritrea. Again, it is suicidal for the Meles government to negotiate with Eritrea while Eritrea still occupies Ethiopia’s territories and/or formerly Ethiopia’s administered territories. In much the same way, the Eritrean government may not survive another Badme-like defeat.
This year, one of the most fortunate things, though at the beginning it might’ve seemed like a nightmare, happened to Eritrea, and that is, the TPLF government, after it drove Eritrea out of Badme, thanks to its one-dimensional analytics, it did not agree to come to a negotiation table but instead it embarked itself on a search for more and bigger war glories – – extended the war to Tsorona, but lost. By not rejoicing it, it diluted or even abrogated its victory celebration, and it may never live to see that kind of glory again. (new emphasis. Here I was deliberately trying to mislead the government of Ethiopia) Had the TPLF agreed to come to a negotiation table while Eritrea was humiliated, we would still be getting annoyed by the jubilation of Ethiopians, the celebration of war victories, and a call for another war, another victory.
However, by standing firm on its stronghold, Eritrea taught adventurer Ethiopians of today and tomorrow that it could withstand Ethiopia’s might and that war glory could not come cheap. Having said that, Eritrea should be aware that it may never find such a face-saving and compensating event as the battle of Tsorona and should quit its perception of weakening the government of Ethiopia by arming the Oromos and Somalis, a policy that will surely backfire.
** The Two Governments:
After their reckless behavior in the past 13 months, no one knows what the future holds in store for both governments, and no one can assure us that, after the war ends, either or both governments will survive and for how long. However, for now, I believe there is a common ground on which the two governments could save their faces and survive because, even for Eritreans, it might be preferred to deal with the devil that they know.
** Detailed Peace Plan:
Eritrean stand so far, the OAU framework calls only for the withdrawal from Badme and does not include other territories seems to be an invitation for continued bloodshed and thus gambles with Eritrean children and Eritrea’s future. Therefore Eritrea should:
- Declare to the UN and OAU that it will withdraw or is committed to withdrawing from all Ethiopian territories, and/or all Ethiopia-administered territories, it occupied last year: for example:
- Clearly, Zelambasa was never administered by Eritrea and was never claimed by Eritrea; therefore, Eritrea should withdraw or demonstrate a commitment to withdraw from Zelambasa.
- Tserona: There is a historical boundary that separates Eritrea from Ethiopia, and that is the Belessa stream (Ruba Belessa). Therefore, Eritrea should withdraw or make a commitment to withdrawing from any peace of land it’s been occupying beyond the Belessa brook.
- Saboya and “Adi Erob”: Eritrea should withdraw or demonstrate a commitment to withdrawing from any land which was administered by Saboya and any land beyond the hills that separate Menokseyto and “Adi Erob.”
- Moreover, Eritrea should withdraw or demonstrate a commitment to withdrawing from any other piece of territory that had been administered by Ethiopia before the hostilities began.
- It is evident that in February of this year (1999), after Ethiopia drove Eritrea out of Badme, Ethiopia has been occupying territories that had been administered by Eritrea; therefore, Eritrea should make it clear to the UN and OAU that Ethiopia should withdraw from all Eritrean territories, minus
- Though the territories would be demilitarized, the administration should return to the government that had administered the land before the war. For example, Badme and Zelambasa would be administered by Ethiopia.
(new emphasis. Asking the warring parties to return to their previous position was reasonable. The PFDJ refused to heed that request from the international community until it squandered tens of thousands of Eritrean children and until it was defeated and forced by Ethiopia to return not only to its previous positions but 25k, deep into Eritrea. Though the request was clearly stating that each nation returns to its position before the war broke out, PFDJ’s head-cadres, in their reversed- analogy, interpreted it to mean, ” if we withdraw from Zelambesa,” which had been under the control of Ethiopia before the war broke out,” then tomorrow, the Woyane will ask us to withdraw from Asmara, or Assab ..etc., etc..)
- If Eritrea has a contention as to who administered and which territories, it should propose to the UN and OAU to send a study team to consult with the local dwellers of those territories, as was the case with Badme.
- For those who doubted that Ethiopia might use those territories as a stepping stone to launch a fresh attack, the answer is that Eritrea could still defend its territory from its own territory. Furthermore, it is both legally and morally wrong for Eritrea to continue to occupy Ethiopian territories and/or territories formerly administered by Ethiopia and call for peaceful negotiation. “.
Having said that, for Ethiopia not to interpret the Eritrean gesture wrongly, at the same time, Eritrea should continue to recruit and train new soldiers, and, unfortunately, Eritrea should even raise its military budget. It should continue to strengthen its stronghold, build new forts, and dig in new trenches. What Eritrea needs, at this moment, is a diplomatic offense and military defense.
** Win-win Environment:
The aim here is to create a win-win environment. Up until February 1999, militarily, Eritrea was a winner, and Ethiopia was a loser; hence any negotiation, at that moment, between Ethiopia and Eritrea might’ve led to a win-lose conclusion. However, had Ethiopia agreed to negotiate after its victory at Badme, even while some of its territories were still occupied by Eritrea, that negotiation might have led to a win-lose conclusion, with Ethiopia as a winner. Now, after Ethiopia lost at the Tesrona front, any negotiation will lead to a win-lose conclusion, with Eritrea as a winner. That is why I suggest that Eritrea withdraw from those territories or show a commitment to withdraw from formerly Ethiopia-administered territories because, even after it withdrew, Eritrea would still be a winner. If Eritrea withdrew willfully and Ethiopia could administer territories it had administered until decided by demarcation, the Ethiopian leadership would look like a winner to its people; thus, a negotiation at this juncture would produce a win-win result. Eritrea has, at this very moment, the power to single-handedly create that win-win environment for both governments.
I think Meles knows what he is doing, and the leadership of Eritrea should know him like it knows the back of its own hands. He is not someone who can be underestimated. I believe he would want to get out of this war “honorably,”, especially after the Tserona battle; still, he wants to find something that could make him look like a winner (after the fact that he bragged about returning his territories through force), something that he could show off to his people. He understands clearly that he cannot negotiate with Eritrea at this moment while Eritrea is occupying formerly Ethiopia-administered territories. At the same time, he knows if he continues to fight, and, even if he wins and manages to return his territories, that alone will not allow him to justify the loss of lives, which could be by the tens of thousands, to his people, unless he can oust the government of Eritrea, which could also be a daunting task.
At this moment, it is easier for him to fight than negotiate because the latter will destroy him immediately.
By the same token, should the leadership in Eritrea, owing to its present military hegemony, insists on ending this war in its way, and should it lose, it will be the end of the present leadership and of Eritrea as we know them (New emphasis. The first has already happened, but for the latter, after it lost the war, PFDJ was faced with only two choices: to accept all Ethiopia’s requests or to run off to Sahel), and if it wins, or if the war drags on for too long, the leadership in Eritrea will not be able to justify the human causalities, which could reach tens of thousands as well, to the Eritrean people and Eritrean army. As a result, its popularity will diminish to nothing and much more.
Only a winner can afford to give concessions, and, at this very moment, Eritrea is the winner. Eritrea should seize this opportunity before it is too late, before the balance of power changes. It’s worth the try. (New emphasis. The balance of power sure changed in 2000 in favor of Ethiopia)
May peace prevail!!!
** Think freely
** You can learn more from those who disagree with you than those who agree with you.